Hamlet and Interlude 5: Civil War(s)

There are more things in heaven and earth. Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Elsinore is beginning to smell of death. First Hamlet’s father. Then Polonius. Now Ophelia. And who knows who will be next. As I said, Elsinore is beginning to smell of death.

It is beginning to look like Civil War. Laertes and Claudius against Hamlet. Is this any way to run a kingdom?

Folks are beginning to doubt Claudius. He had a good run at king-ing. Now, not so much. Even the queen has started grumbling. A “I’m not in the mood” kind of grumbling.

Shakespeare’s England had been through this before. The War of the Roses between the Red Rose of the Lancaster family and the White Rose of the York family in the 1400s. The Elizabethans knew what this led to. Chaos.

It had taken a Tudor to bring order to England. He did that in 1485 at Bosworth Field.

So seeing “Hamlet” on stage was a reminder of what could happen. And they didn’t like it. They didn’t like or want another Civil War.

With the chaos of a Civil War came a country that couldn’t prosper. No one got rich, only poorer. A lot of folks didn’t get to die in bed. It meant brother against brother, father against son. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The Elizabethans didn’t think it was fun. This is one of the reasons many Elizabethans remained Protestant. They weren’t happy about the persecution of the Catholics. But the Pope and the Jesuits couldn’t leave well enough alone. They had to go and stir the pot and persist in overthrowing Queen Elizabeth Numero Uno. The Elizabethans remembered Bloody Mary, and they were not ready to go back to that. Above all, the English wanted order. Elizabeth gave the English something the Roses and Bloody Mary did not give them. Order.

The Danes under Claudius were seeing order break down. At the beginning of Claudius’ reign, Denmark prospered. Now crops started to fail. Parts of the country suffered from drought. Seemed like somebody had an Oedipus Complex. They weren’t sure who. But one thing was sure. Either Claudius and Laertes buried the hatchet with Hamlet or all hell might just break loose. The Danes knew how that turned out, and they were not happy that there’d be a mess to clean up in the end.

Hamlet Interval 3: What if

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. (Measure for Measure Act II, Scene I).

Act 1 Interlude. There were only two women at Elsinore. One Hamlet’s mom, Gertrude, and Ophelia who was verboten to date him, Hamlet just didn’t have a girlfriend. No female for some whoppee, none for hanky panky. What if there had been women in the Castle in addition to Gertrude and Ophelia? Here are some suggestions and what these women might say:

Lady Macbeth: You do your Uncle in or I will do you in.

Rosalind (from As You Like It): Let’s go have some fun. You do Tootsie and I will do Yentil.

Beatrice (from Much Ado About Nothing): I’m sorry but I will not marry you. I am not into guys who wear black. Or green. Or blue. Or orange. But you might look nice in purple.

Annie Hall: I don’t care whether you kill your uncle, but you gotta kill that spider.

Emma (from Emma by Jane Austen): Have I got the right gal for you.

Scarlett: Tomorrow is another day to kill your Uncle.

Ana (from Fifty Shades of Grey): So you have a dungeon here in Elsinore?

Martha Stewart: This castle could use some redecorating.

Mary Poppins: Can you say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? If you can, then take a spoonful of sugar and the medicine of revenge will go down. Poof. No more Claudius.

Princess Leia from Star Wars: Use the Force to take Claudius out.

Mommy Dearest: Look, Hamlet, if you don’t do the job, I am going to have to use the coat hanger.

Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter): I’m telling you that Snape is Claudius.

Clarice Starling (from Silence of the Lambs) I will not eat Claudius’ liver with or without fava beans.

Jane Eyre: Why is everybody always saying to me, “To eeyre is Jane”?

Annie Savoy (from Bull Durham): Hamlet, I have just the thing for you. Baseball. You could be a .390 batter if you tried. You certainly have the arm for it.

Holly Golightly (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s): You don’t have any problems that cab money and a trip to Tiffany’s can’t solve, Hamlet.

Mrs. Lovett (from Sweeny Todd): Hamlet, I have the perfect thing to cheer you up. A lovely meat pie.

Alice (in Wonderland): You haven’t seen a cat, have you? We went out on a blind date, then he disappeared. He did have a nice smile.

Eliza Doolittle (from My Fair Lady): Aw garn, I never see’d a castle before.

Guinevere (from Camelot): Hamlet, do you want to join my Round Table?

Daisy Buchanan (from The Great Gatsby): Honestly, Hamlet, Tom knows everything. He may even know where Claudius put the poison. Now could you pass the tea please?

Ripley (from Alien): Your uncle has something growing inside of him, Hamlet.

Lieutenant Uhura (from Star Trek): Beam me up, Captain Hamlet.

Shakira: Just shake those hips, Hamlet.

Jenifer Lopez: You look so bootylicious, Hamlet. We make such a bootylicious couple, don’t you think?

Beyonce: I saw you in the elevator, Hamlet, with Ophelia of all people.

Taylor Swift: Just shake it off, Hamlet. Shake it off.

Mylie Cyrus: I could twerk Claudius dead. I have great aim. And I will just wham him with my wrecking ball.

Lady Gaga: Hamlet, we are going to have to do something about those clothes.

Marge Gunderson (from Fargo): Oh, geez.

Mae West: Why don’t you come up and see me sometime, Big Boy?

Unfortunately none of these were available. Only Gertrude, only Ophelia.

Which pretty much left Ophelia by herself. Gertrude had Claudius. Hamlet had Horatio. Polonius had his scheming and Laertes had Paris. Ophelia had no one. She was alone. Quite alone.

Hamlet: So you think you’ve got problems

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Hamlet 1. 5. 

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 1 Scene 4 1/2. We already know that it is a dark and stormy night at Elsinore Castle. Well, it’s about to get darker and stormier.

There’s Team Hamlet—Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, Barnardo. Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it? Or a vaudeville act? The Marx Brothers. The Three Stooges without the nyak-nyak-nyak. Up on the roof, chattering their teeth off from the chill. Next thing you know, Horatio’s teeth stop chattering. Then to Hamlet, “My lord, look, it comes.”

Now that “it” can only be one thing. Not Polonius. Not Claudius. Not Gertrude. Not Laertes. Definitely not Ophelia. Yep, you guessed it.

Enter the ghost. Just three words. If you’re looking for a good plot device, this is a good one. After all, Dickens did it. So why not Shakespeare? They are about to change Hamlet’s life. Hamlet turns. Not slowly and not fastly, but just right the way Goldilocks liked her porridge. The next thing out of the Hamster’s mouth,” “Whoa, dude.” The “dude” comes from his surfing days.

He buckles up his courage. That is Courage with a capital C. “Okay, Big Guy. WTF are you?” Hamlet takes a gander at Horatio. His eyes big as saucers. Not just any saucers either. Flying saucers. “Is that who I think it is?”

Horatio nods an uh-huh.

Hamlet to the ghost, “Hey, are you from heaven? You don’t look like you’re from heaven. You’d be all shiny and new if you were. Maybe you’re a demon.”

He leans over and whispers to Horatio, “Run and get an exorcist. We have a big one here.” Then thinking better of it. “Oh, never mind. ”

He squints and speaks to the ghost, “Well, if it don’t beat all. It looks like the Old Man. Hi, Dad. I got to tell you that you forget to pay my college tuition for this semester. The school almost booted me out. Thank God for financial aid. But you know the interest rate I am having to pay on that loan. It’s enough to bankrupt the kingdom out of castle and moat when I become king.”

Hamlet then realizes he may not be talking to dear old Pop. “Look, dead corpse—you are dead, aren’t you? How did you get out? And don’t give me that yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum-on-a-dead-man’s-chest either. I read Treasure Island and I know how it turns out. It ain’t you.”

“Hamlet” and The Thing

Now is the winter of our discontent. Richard III Act 1. Scene 1.

Act 1. Scene 1 (Continued). What would you do if you met a ghost? Oh, you don’t believe in ghosts. Neither did Horatio. After all, he had taken enough philosophy to know that he was a materialist. If it didn’t exist in the material world, it didn’t exist. Then he found himself stumbling into the first scene of “Hamlet” and all hell broke loose.

Act One Scene One opens and everybody is identifying themselves. You know the guard post is darker than dark ’cause everybody keeps asking who everybody is.

The guard, Francisco, tells Barnardo, his relief, to unfold himself. Ain’t no way that Barnardo is going to unfold himself. He’ll freeze. Don’t know why Barnardo didn’t say back, “Unfold your own self.” Then give Frenchie the finger.

But he didn’t. He did a long-live-the-king, then everything is A-Okay with Francisco. Just about the time Frenchie leaves, up shows Marcellus, another one of the guards. He’s dragged Horatio, Hamlet’s good bud, out of bed.

Once Barnardo identifies Marcellus and Marcellus identifies Horatio, Barnardo calls Marcellus “good”. How does Barnardo know that Marcellus is good? We are only in the first scene and here Shakespeare is telling us that Marcellus is good. Whatever happened to that writerly dictum, “Show don’t tell.”

If Shakespeare is not careful, Jonathan Franzen will be copying him and that will never do. Oh, that’s right. Franzen already does “tell, don’t show” better than a lot of other writers. After all, he is the twenty-first century’s answer to the question of who is the latest version of the great American novelist.

Why doesn’t Barnardo think Horatio is good? Could it be because Horatio is from out of town, so he’s looked down on by all the Elsinoreans? An Elsinorean, of course, is someone who lives in Elsinore. But you already knew that.

Horatio is poor. He is going to school on the G I Bill. He served with Hamlet’s dad when Dad was the King of Denmark and did a slamdunk on Norway. Horatio was the dead king’s squire and Hamlet’s roommate at Wittenberg University, Marty Luther’s alma mater. Go Lions. Horatio and Hamlet are besties. If he were asked, Horatio would say that he is at Elsinore for the old king’s funeral and the new king’s coronation and wedding.

In this story, Horatio is to the hero, Hamlet, what Nick Carroway was to Gatsby. He knows all the missing parts and he still loves the Ham. He is the one who can tell his friend’s side of things long after he is gone.

Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Horatio wanders why Marcellus dragged him out on a knight like this. And for guard duty, at that. He’d been there done that till he didn’t want to done that no more.

“We saw a thing last night,” Marcellus says.

“A thing?” Horatio asks.

“Yes, a thing,” Barnardo says.

“What kind of thing?” Horatio wants to know.

“You know,” Barnardo says, “a thing.”

“Horatio thinks we’re making this up,” Marcellus says. “But I convinced him it would appear as it has two times before.”

“I don’t know what you guys have been drinking,” Horatio says. “Or smoking, but we’re not going to see a thing tonight.” Horatio has a case of the Missouris. He has to be shown. And shown he shall be.

Then they hear the waves, splashing below, making a ruckus. Out of the darkness of the sea below…

Hamlet and the Scene of the Crime(s)

All that glistens is not gold. Merchant of Venice Act 2. Scene 7.

Hamlet’s world is no sunny Italy. It is nary the world of color and flowers and sun. Nor is it the lands of comedy and romance and song and spring, glorious spring. Hamlet’s world is the world of snow and ice. It is the north. A north that calls to mind the bleakness of the films of Ingmar Bergman. It is the dark, brooding landscape of Elsinore, home to the Danish King.

It’s a castle, this Elsinore. A great stone castle. Three of its walls face the sea, guarding against an invasion by sea. Across the Oresund Strait faces Sweden. Just down the way Norway threatens.

It is a castle, this Elsinore. Not a palace but a castle. If it were a palace, it would be luxurious and designed for comfort and showing off. No, it is a castle which makes it a fort that can be easily defended against the young Fortinbras, better known as Norway.

It is a castle, this Elsinore where six murders are executed. A great stone castle. The home of a king of Denmark. Though it must be a medieval fortress, it is also a home.

Think about your home. How comfortable you are there, comfortable to be yourself. If you were a king lodged in a fortress-like castle, you would have tapestries hung on the cold stone walls. Tapestries of the history of your family’s battles, a history of the great kings of the past. Maybe a tapestry of the latest defeat of a Fortinbras some years back.

In each room of this great stone castle is a large fireplace, the fires roaring to keep the cold winters at bay. In every room, there are bear hides laid out on the floor for warmth. Just to let the folks know what a badass the king is, there are spears, swords and armor everywhere.

In the great hall sits the throne of the king. Not a throne of stone with jewels carved into it to prove how wealthy the kingdom. It is a large wooden seat of governance where the ruler sits to do the kingdom’s business.

Though this Elsinore is a castle, it is comfortable enough for a king. But no one, not even a king, can be himself here. For this is a place where everything is political. Here Machiavellian things occur. This is a castle where kings and princes, queens and daughters, fathers and sons become corpses.